Wildfires Quadruple in Size in Montana

LINCOLN, Mont. (AP) -- Residents in this picturesque mountain community were scrambling to gather their belongings as two wildfires quadrupled in size and churned uncontrolled through surrounding forests.

More fires were growing or sprouting up Wednesday in northwestern Montana, including one posing a potential threat to the power lines streaming from an electricity-generating dam and spawning evacuation fears in the nearby community of Hungry Horse, officials said.

More than 120 families were already out of their homes in the Lincoln region and wondering if and when they would be able to return, and an additional 150 families waited Thursday morning to learn if they would have to leave.

``We're just going to cross our fingers. There's still a lot of things that can go wrong out there,'' said Bill Molumby, the deputy incident commander for the fires near Lincoln, estimated at 30,700 acres.

Kelcy Marxer, 11, wanted to know if he would be able to get back home before school started next week. His mother, Dawn Charron, said Kelcy and his older brother had everything they needed from their house, just a mile from an approaching blaze.

``They're getting really good at picking out what they want,'' she said.

Fire officials near Missoula were also reluctant to let residents return to 120 residences within a half-mile of a 21,000-acre fire complex there, where conditions were too unpredictable.

A widespread wind storm also started an increasingly troublesome fire in an area west of Hungry Horse Reservoir; crews from a 44,250-acre fire in Glacier National Park were sent to begin grappling with it.

``We want to hit it hard while it's small and keep it that way,'' said Kathy Arnoldus, fire information officer.

Montana's fire season, which started early and may last until the first fall snows, now includes about three dozen large fires, with new ones exploding daily. Officials said eight new fires were spotted in Glacier National Park Wednesday, following a lightning and wind storm Tuesday night.

Three major fires still burning in the park already have scorched an estimated 100,000 acres.

The military is being called upon as the situation worsens, and officials said about 500 National Guard personnel were expected to begin working Thursday on fires west of Missoula. Another 100 were to report for duty on the Lincoln fires by Monday, a fire spokesman said.

Authorities also asked about a dozen residents to vacate a small town on the Idaho border about 50 miles southeast of Dillon after a fire there expanded to 9,000 acres. No buildings were lost.